The family of a motorcyclist killed in a head-on collision with a 21-year-old driver who was drunk, coming down on drugs and extremely fatigued have had their $3.4 million wrongful death verdict affirmed.
Defendant had appealed on several grounds, including that trial court should not have introduced evidence of his drug use in the days leading up to the crash or statements regarding his actions while in the hospital after the crash. The Connecticut Supreme Court, in weighing Fleming v. Dionisio, rejected his arguments and affirmed the verdict.
According to court records, the young driver was working 60-to-70-hour shifts weekly at a local restaurant. He was also not getting much sleep and binging nightly on a mix of alcohol, cocaine and ecstasy in between those shifts. On July 3rd, he’d drank six to eight beers before sleeping three hours and heading into work for a 16-hour shift. He then went home, consumed another six to eight beers over the course of three hours, and then remembered nothing. Sometime between his loss of recollection and 7 a.m. the next morning, he got behind the wheel of a car. He was a short distance away from the restaurant where he worked when he crossed the center line while operating that vehicle, slamming into the motorcyclist, killing him.
The driver would later say he awoke when he realized he was behind the wheel of his father’s vehicle and he had crashed.
An officer who arrived on scene noted he appeared intoxicated, and he took the young man to the hospital. There, two hours after the crash, his blood-alcohol content reportedly measured 0.09 – which is over the legal limit. However, upon hearing that the motorcyclist he’d hit had actually died, he began having an internal dialogue about whether to drink his own urine in order to destroy evidence of his intoxication.
A nurse walked into the hospital room to find him doing just that.
He was later convicted on a single charge of DUI manslaughter and sentenced to a prison term of five years.
Prior to the civil trial, plaintiff settled her wrongful death claim against defendant’s father (as owner of the vehicle, vicariously liable) for $1.3 million.
At the civil wrongful death trial against defendant driver, an expert witness testified that after analyzing defendant’s toxicology reports, he concluded defendant was “crashing” – or in other words, in withdrawal – from the illicit drugs. That, combined with too much alcohol and not enough sleep, had made him prone to extreme fatigue to the point of falling asleep behind the wheel.
Evidence of his post-hospital actions were also admitted.
Jurors deliberated two hours before deciding the case in favor of plaintiff, to whom they awarded a total of $3.4 million in economic and non-economic damages, as well as punitive damages.
Defendant appealed the decision, saying it wasn’t fair that his drug use from days before the crash was considered as part of the case.
However, the state supreme court rejected that argument and agreed the information pertaining to his post-hospital actions was relevant to the case.
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Fleming v. Dionisio, July 14, 2015, Connecticut Supreme Court
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